A group of Tacoma elementary school physical education teachers say their students are being wrongly excluded from what is arguably Tacoma Public Schools’ premier sports venue.
The teachers are planning an all-city track meet for their students June 3. They say they have traditionally held the event on the first Saturday in June. And it’s traditionally been at Mount Tahoma High School, home of the school district’s newest stadium.
That’s where it took place last year. Teachers thought they’d get the venue again this year.
But the school district promised the stadium on that date to the American Cancer Society’s 24-hour Relay for Life , which starts at 5:45 p.m. June 2 and ends at 5:45 p.m. June 3.
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Officials asked the teachers to stage their track meet at Lincoln High School instead.
The teachers, who have twice brought their complaints to Tacoma School Board meetings, say that’s not fair. They cite district policy, which states that school-related programs or activities have priority for use of district facilities.
They say Lincoln Bowl lacks parking, restroom, public address and other amenities that are available at the newer Mount Tahoma.
“Why shouldn’t our kids have the best?” said Teresa Weydert, a PE teacher at Stafford Elementary.
Why shouldn’t our kids have the best
Teresa Weydert, P.E. teacher at Stafford Elementary
District officials said Relay involves many Tacoma students, so they have considered the event similar to a school group.
“We are reviewing the policy to determine if we should change our protocols in future years,” said school district spokesman Dan Voelpel.
Voelpel said Monday that the district’s legal department is reviewing policies and regulations pertaining to use of school facilities. He said administrators are looking for options that could accommodate all involved.
Relay for Life is caught in the middle.
Christina Kelly, regional spokeswoman for the Cancer Society, says the June 2-3 date has been on its calendar since last summer, based on a verbal agreement with the school district. She said Relay is unable to shift dates at this point because it has contracts with vendors providing food and other services. In addition, she said, volunteers already have begun organizing teams to participate on the announced dates.
Voelpel said Relay for Life pays the district for custodial, security and other facility-related costs, but he didn’t know the exact cost.
We feel bad, because the school district has been a great partner for us in this event
Christina Kelly, American Cancer Society
Relay got its start in Tacoma in 1985, through the efforts of the late Dr. Gordon Klatt. It’s now a series of fundraising walks that take place in communities around the globe. The Tacoma event features team members who take turns walking a track for 24 hours, to symbolize the 24/7 battle that cancer patients fight.
For many years, Relay took place at Stadium High School, but it moved to the larger Mount Tahoma facility due to the growth in Relay participants. Organizers say the event attracts thousands of people each year.
Kelly said it’s unfortunate that two important community events are occurring on the same date, but added that the school district determines scheduling.
“We feel bad, because the school district has been a great partner for us in this event,” she said.
“We have nothing against Relay for Life,” said Kurt Shevalier, a P.E. teacher at Whitman Elementary.
But he and other teachers say they believe their students should have been given priority over an event organized by an outside group. They said their meet involves about 400 kids and 1,000 spectators.
Teachers say they’re unable to shift the date of their track meet, because earlier dates are reserved for other state and district track events. Moving it later, to June 10, puts it too close to the end of the school year, when elementary P.E. teachers are busy preparing for their schools’ field days. Also, teachers are hoping to encourage kids to participate in the Sound to Narrows run, which is scheduled for June 10.
School board member Scott Heinze said the whole situation feels like it’s a disagreement among adults.
“This is about kids, and providing them with opportunities,” Heinze said. “It feels like we’ve glossed over that.”
Board member Karen Vialle said the district also needs to consider the size and historic significance of Relay for Life in Tacoma.
“This is the birthplace of Relay for Life,” she said. “It’s not like we only have one stadium.”